Dealing with a toddler's tantrums is a fine chance for a workout

On a parenting site recommended to me, a friendly, Stock Image dad wrote that crying and crankiness were, actually, a good thing, because tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone. Crying is, therefore, just stress leaving the body. Not for the first time, I had my usual reaction to reading a well-meant bit of happy-clappy parenting advice; namely, a strong desire to reach through my screen and release some of my own stress on Stock Image Dad’s big smug face.

I’ve written about my son’s anger before, but things are coming to a real head; in his case, a small, screaming, ginger head. His tantrums are so bad it’s hard to get him to leave the house, or return to the house, or induce him to perform any task on command at all.

One of his favourite pastimes is deciding he doesn’t want to do anything at all. He slumps to the ground, his arms and legs flailing limply. If I had to rate his tantrum tactics I’d put this well inside the top two or three. There he lies, prostrate and fuming, flopping on the ground like a dropped fish in a 1940s cartoon. The genius of this technique is that it removes all of the rigid angles from his upper body, making him effectively impossible to hold, let alone lift.

This results in me grasping him by the folds of his clothing, Weekend at Bernie’s style, just to manoeuvre him away from stairs/a footpath/oncoming traffic. The problem is Bernie didn’t put up much resistance, whereas my son’s constant squirming leaves me having to summon from my feeble forearms something like the tensile strength of a bear trap, shredding my nerve endings until my knuckles go white.

My son is not yet three, but has a knack for wielding his 13kg frame in such a way that even the most mundane parenting tasks can feel like a workout. Like a narky little Tardis, his rage expands his mass in unseen dimensions until simply getting him to sit down in a car seat is like forcing Vin Diesel into a pothole.

I’m sympathetic, of course. He’s experiencing so many feelings and frustrations for the first time, and he needs me to keep calm and carry on while he learns the ropes. It’s no use me getting angry, even if he is head-butting me in the park, spitting in rage, or screaming ‘Go away Daddy!’ just because I made him the jam sandwich he asked me to make him.

As much as I can, I try to get to his eye level and explain, quietly and with empathy, why he cannot stick his hands into the wee from the toilet, no matter how much he wants to, while reassuring him that I understand this must be very upsetting for him indeed. Within a few minutes he’s calmed down, ready to rejoin civilisation even though he had been spitting at me just moments before. Maybe, I think to myself, that was just stress leaving the body, too.


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